“An Ever-Present Absence” and “A Never-Absent Presence”

It was a Friday, about noontime, when I cranked up the computer to go on-line and check my e-mail.  I’ve become accustomed to getting a cup of coffee while the machine performs its various warm-up exercises until it finally gets to where I want it to be.  That’s what I did.  Returning with coffee in hand, I was intrigued by the bright red “breaking news” homepage headline announcing “Massacre In Elementary School.”  These four connected words seemed utterly UN-connected to me.  I initially thought to myself, “that must’ve been some snowball fight in Connecticut!”  As the day and the story unfolded, the harsh reality of what was impossible to conceive began to sink in.

The Apostle Paul refers to the “sting” of death.  Some things sting worse than others—as do some “deaths.”  This one stung big time—families, friends, communities and even nations.  Those words, which should never have been connected, indeed were connected.  And the grief was, is and will continue to be great and deep.

While counselors strive to promote “closure” for those most directly affected by this horrible tragedy, another reality to be faced is that there can be NO closure.  Nothing can restore the dead to life.  The tragic loss of the victims of the massacre will be to all who know and love them “an ever-present absence.”  And in our modern society, accustomed to finding answers to any question with a few mouse clicks and curing every ailment with the latest therapy, the reality that physical life will indeed end is a bitter pill to swallow.

While this event occurred over a month ago, its aftermath remains timely and relevant to two observances this month.

First, many will participate in observances highlighting the sanctity of God’s gift of life.  The memory of the precious souls of the innocent children slaughtered in Connecticut should inspire all of us to a more profound respect for every human life—pre-born and born.

Many this month also will participate in various programs and services in connection with the Annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity that seeks to actualize the words of the Psalmist, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is, when brothers dwell in unity!”  So many in our troubled world still urgently seek and desperately need the stability, comfort, consolation, faith, hope and strength that, historically, was to be found in the Church.  We need to overcome economic, political and philosophical divisions to be able to provide a united prophetic witness to modern society, as did Isaiah to the ancient world: “When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.  For I am the Lord your God…” (Isaiah 43:2-3).

Yes, we modern, sophisticated Americans seem to be constantly walking about in the midst of a fiery furnace.  And sometimes we’re just too darn busy to realize that, even in the midst of “an ever-present absence,”  there is, with us, in the furnace, “a never-absent Presence”—“like the Son of God” (Daniel 3:25).